Cars

MDX is still the jewel in Acura’s lineup

DAZZLE: The five jeweled headlights on each side of the 2014 Acura MDX do triple duty as daytime running lights and both low and high beams.
DAZZLE: The five jeweled headlights on each side of the 2014 Acura MDX do triple duty as daytime running lights and both low and high beams.Credit: BILL GRIFFITH

It’s easy to get used to living with Acura’s new flagship SUV, the MDX. That’s just the way Acura planned it; the brand has succeeded in creating a pleasing synergy of styling, performance, and connectivity.

This is the third generation of the MDX, the company’s sales and profit leader. As such, it’s a vitally important new vehicle, and Acura went all out to improve on an already excellent product.

Acura’s design team made only evolutionary changes to the exterior appearance. The new MDX’s most prominent styling cue is the five-element, jeweled, projector-type headlights.

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Under the sheet metal, the MDX is totally redesigned, starting with a new platform, redone suspension, upgraded interior, more safety features, and a simplified center stack that makes the vehicle’s connectivity features more user-friendly.

Power comes from a new (and smaller) 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 290 horsepower with 267 lb. ft. of torque, mated with a six-speed automatic transmission. This powertrain has a 27 mile per gallon highway rating for the all-wheel-drive version we tested. It’s rated at 18 mpg in city driving and 21 for the EPA combined circuit. One drawback: It requires premium grade fuel.

Performance was exemplary—smooth and effortless. The redesigned suspension and electric power steering made handling predictable and reassuring.

Also new for 2014 is a two-wheel-drive version the company hopes will increase sales in the Sunbelt.

Many savvy Northerners—those who don’t plan on putting the first tire tracks on the road after a foot of new snow—will realize that traction control and a good set of snow tires will get the 2WD version through most any New England conditions at a savings. That version has mpg ratings of 20 (city), 28 (highway), and 23 (combined).

Part of that improved fuel economy is achieved through the Honda/Acura VCM (variable cylinder management) system that can turn off three cylinders in the V-6 engine. In the past, it’s been a point of pride to be able to feel when the engine switches modes. No longer. This one is seamless.

A base 2WD lists for $43,185, including destination, while our SH-AWD version with the technology package lists for $49,460. The SH stands for “Super Handling.”

The technology package adds navigation with traffic data, 19-inch alloy wheels, keyless access, higher grade audio system, forward collision warning (FCW), lane departure warning (LDW), and blind spot information system (BSI).

While the navigation system features an 8-inch color display, a second screen just below handles audio and climate functions.

The 41-button center stack in the outgoing MDX has been reconfigured and now features just nine buttons. However, while the system is simpler to use, many of the buttons have morphed into icon-type buttons on the touchscreen.

Still, we found it easy to connect an iPhone to the Bluetooth, play iPod music, input destinations for unfamiliar cities, and generally make the system work for us.

We gave it a week of unusual commuting and weekending. It spent some of its days battling rush hour traffic to downtown Salem, where I had jury duty.

On the weekend, it had the pleasure of taking us to an outdoor wedding in a decidedly upscale section of Bolton.

The MDX was quite comfortable in those upscale surroundings, happy to watch the proceedings through those five-element, jeweled, LED headlights, a feature Acura claims throws a nice white light 75 feet farther down the road than the vehicle’s predecessor did. With the days getting noticeably shorter, we found those lights made the MDX a pleasure to drive at night.

Inside, besides the simplified center stack, the MDX has upgraded material on all touch points, nicer leather surfaces and trim materials, increased use of LED lights, and a standard rear view camera to complete all-around good visibility.

One of the MDX’s big selling points is its seven-passenger seating with improved access to the third row, a comfortable (sliding and reclining) second-row seat, and seat folding options—60-40 in the second row and 50-50 in the third.

Third-row passengers can push a button on the side of the second row, causing the seat to slide all the way forward and the seatback to fold forward, creating relatively easy access. A similar button on each side of the back of the second-row seats triggers the same movement for egress.

All that first- and second-row comfort comes at a price because there’s not a lot of cargo space left behind the third row. A good-sized ($225) purchase at the grocery store produced more bags than would fit without lowering one half of the third row. However, the cutouts at the side of the cargo area are made to hold larger items such as a gallon of milk.

Among the MDX’s hidden improvements are increased noise cancellation, better steering feedback, an Agile Handling Assist system, and 275-pound weight reduction.

Just more ways that Acura has designed the MDX to make its owners’ lives easier.

2014 Acura MDX SH-AWD

THE BASICS

Price, base/as tested (with destination): $45,185/$49,460. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 18/27. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 25.9. Drivetrain: 3.5-liter V-6, six-speed automatic transmission, AWD. Body: Seven-passenger SUV with unibody construction.

THE SPECIFICS

Horsepower: 290. Torque: 267 lb.-ft. Overall length: 193.6 in. Wheelbase: 111 in. Height: 67.6 in. Width: 7.2 in. Curb weight: 4,270 lbs.

THE GOOD

Latest technology combined with luxury and proven reliability.

THE BAD

Limited rear cargo space; requires premium fuel.

THE BOTTOM LINE

One of the best premium SUVs takes a noticeable step forward.

ALSO CONSIDER

Buick Enclave, BMW X5, Infiniti QX60, Lexus RX 350, Lincoln MKT.

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